Cover Cropping in the Wet Tropics

In this video: Learn about the benefits of cover cropping and the three main approaches

Cover cropping improves your soil health, and can also give you a cash return. There are three main approaches to cover cropping:

1. Single species cover cropping

A single species of cover crop is grown in rotation with your main cash crop. For example, soy beans grown in rotation with sugarcane.

2. Multi species cover cropping

This is where you grow more than two species at the same time in rotation with your cash crops. You can trial 4, 6, 8 or even 10 different species as part of your cover crop rotation.

3. Intercropping

This is where you grow a complementary cover crop in with your main cash crop. For example, growing sunflowers in with sugarcane at the same time.

The benefits

Cover crops are usually low maintenance once they’re growing, and the increased diversity from cover cropping has important benefits to your farming system:

  1. Soil health. Intercropping increases soil organic matter, improves soil structure and improves the biological health of the soil, which can often lead to reduced soil borne disease issues. Healthy soil also holds moisture better,
  2. Nutrient management. Legume cover crops help bring in nitrogen, but a lot of the other cover crop species help to access and cycle other nutrients like phosphorus, sulphur and trace elements. The nitrogen contributed by the cover crop can be enough to grow the first plant crop.
  3. Weed control. Growing a thick cover crop on a paddock instead of leaving it bare minimises the spaces for weeds to take over. There’s simply no room for weeds to grow.
  4. Extra cash. Cover crops can actually become valuable cash crops when they're done right.

Getting your cover cropping strategy right

  1. Have a really clear idea of what you're trying to achieve.
  2. Select the right cover cropping tactic to address your goals.
  3. Grow as big a plant biomass above and below ground as possible in your crop cycle window. (You need to be okay with a bit of messy biomass!)
  4. Terminate the cover crop. You can physically incorporate them with tillage equipment like slashing, mowing or shallow incorporation. You can also spray them out with chemicals, use a crop roller to roll down the cover crop, or use livestock to graze them out.

If you want to find out more contact your local WTSIP Extension Officer.

Watch the next video in this series: Minimal Tillage in the Wet Tropics